Essar claims the article is defamatory and has sought damages of Rs 250 crore. Journalists says they will fight it out in the court.

On August 1, The Caravan magazine, known for its detailed, investigative long-form journalism, published a 14,000-word article on Essar Group and the Ruia family which owns and runs Essar companies. Reported by Staff Writer Krishn Kaushik, the damning article titled ‘Doing The Needful’, to cut the long-form short, demolished the image of Ruias and Essar Group in one giant swoop. You can read it here. Earlier, on July 20, in its Web exclusive section Vantage, the magazine had also published leaked emails between Essar executives which listed out alleged beneficiaries who were handed out free iPads by the company. The list included several influential politicians, journalists and bureaucrats.

Not happy with the dirty linen being washed on the cover of the magazine, Essar had sent legal notices to the magazine, its publishers, editors and the reporter alleging that the reportage was aimed at maligning the group and asking that the report be taken down. Subsequently, on the magazine responding to legal notice with hard facts and refusing to take down the article, Essar group has sued the magazine for Rs. 250 crore.

In its legal notice sent on July 21 over the story on iPads being handed out, Essar states that the list which was leaked to the media was a result of a data theft and that in spite of the magazine being warned against using the ‘stolen’ emails they went ahead and published the story. In its response, the magazine has stated that the emails were leaked by a whistleblower who had full legal access to the emails and that by the time the magazine had published the emails, they were already in public domain, most notably with lawyer-activist Prashant Bhushan.

The notice also says that the magazine attempted to malign the reputation of the company and ‘cause grave and irreparable damage’ to them.

In the other legal notice, dated August 8, sent asking the publishers to pull down the long-form report on Essar, the company lists out parts of the story which it deems are false and defamatory.

In the response to both legal notices, The Caravan gives a point-by-point rebuttal of each allegation stating that the article has been published after ‘comprehensive research over a period of time and a reasonable verification of facts’. Further, the respondents state that the legal notice sent to them is intended to harass the magazine into pulling down the article.

The magazine states that the story on Essar is an exercise in freedom of expression, stating that the story is matter of public interest. More importantly, in its defense, the magazine also points out that Essar itself has not denied the facts of the story.

 

Left: A section of Essar's legal notice, Right: The Caravan's response

The Caravan's response to the legal notices is not without a dose of humour. In its legal notice, Essar had listed one of the Noticees as ‘Delhi Press Club’. The magazine’s response reads, “That it may be noted there is no entity such as “Delhi Press Club”, mentioned as Noticee No. 4 in the legal notice, in existence at the address mentioned against Noticee No. 4. My clients are neither aware nor associated with “Delhi Press Club” which has been stated t be present at the registered address of Delhi Press Patra Prakashan Pvt Ltd. You are therefore, requested to ask your client to verify their facts.”

The lawsuit was filed in Ahmedabad because Essar is “carrying on substantial business” in the city.

In the lawsuit, Essar has sought temporary injunction and order to restrain the journalists from “publishing, issuing, circulating, distributing or advertising in any manner whatsoever either in print or electronic or any other form of media any defamatory story or article concerning the Plaintiff”.

Essar has also sought damages to the tune of Rs 250 crore as “a genuine pre-estimate of the damages suffered by it considering that it is a part of a large conglomerate ‘Essar’ which has investments in various sectors such as steel, energy, infrastructure etc. and having operations in more than 29 countries across 5 continents and the worldwide goodwill and reputation that it holds”.

You can read a detailed analysis of the legal documents here.

Speaking to The News Minute, Editor of The Caravan Vinod K Jose said, “Like several other stories of The Caravan, the Essar story has been done by one of our finest reporters who worked on it for 6 months having travelled to and reported from Mumbai, Chattisgarh, Gujarat and Delhi. The article has been published after thorough fact-checking and lives up to the highest of journalistic standards. We are taking all available legal recourse against the lawsuit.”